Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Difficult Atheism, or Beyond the New Atheism

As many have pointed out, the New Atheism is remarkably old-fashioned. It shares the touching faith of 19thC 'infidels' that secular intellectuals can make a clean break with the religious past, erecting a new philosophy that owes nothing to faith and everything to Reason.

The New Atheists have made plenty of converts among the general reading public, but they are failing to convince secular intellectuals. We are seeing the emergence of more conflicted styles of atheism that frankly acknowledge the religious roots of modern thought. Examples abound. Germany's leading philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, has argued that many of the values of European liberal democracy have Christian sources. The English philosophers, John Gray and Simon Critchley, maintain that post-Enlightenment political ideals owe much to Christian doctrines like original sin, millennialism, providence. Within contemporary French philosophy, as Chris Watkins shows in his book, Difficult Atheism (2011), there is an ongoing debate about what a genuinely post-theological atheism would look like, or whether it's even possible. The literary critic, James Wood (who was raised among Anglican charismatics in Oxford) has written in the New Yorker that ‘What is needed is a theologically engaged atheism, that resembles disappointed belief.’ At a more populist level, writers like Alain de Botton are thinking about how to create Religion for Atheists (2012).

What separates these writers from the New Atheists is a strong sense of history - an appreciation that religion is a constitutive element of human cultures across history, and that it has continued to flow into the values of a 'secular' age. When atheists get history, they get religion.

Jaroslav Pelikan - A Portrait of the Christian as a Young Intellectual

Jaroslav Pelikan was arguably the greatest historian of Christian thought in the twentieth century. It's worth reading his commencement address at the University of Wittenberg in 1960 (and worth remembering that Wittenberg was then behind the Iron Curtain). He has some profound reflections on why Christians should have a Passion for Being, a Reverence for Language and an Enthusiasm for History:


Thursday, 16 February 2012

A New Direction for Christian Historians?

Over at Books and Culture, Alister Chapman has reviewed a recent book of essays on Christianity and the practice of history: John Fea, Jay Green, Eric Miller, eds, Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation (University of Notre Dame, 2009).


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

CHF Spring Conference: From 1662 to 2012

Our Spring Conference will be held on Monday 26 March 2012 at Gladstone's Library, Hawarden. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the 1662 ejection of Nonconformist ministers from the Church of England, so our theme is '350 Years of Nonconformist History'. The speakers are all contributing to the forthcoming T&T Clark Companion to Nonconformity. They will be addressing a number of major themes:

- The Denominations: John Briggs (Keele), Densil Morgan (Trinity St David)
- Church and State: John Coffey (Leicester), John Wolffe (Open University)
- Mission and the World: David Ceri Jones (Abersytwyth), David Jeremy (Manchester Met)
- Writing the History of Nonconformity: Densil Morgan and Robert Pope (Trinity St David)

For bookings, contact Prof John Wollfe, 3 Sunny Hill, Hendon, London, NW4 4LN, or email him at j.r.wolffe@open.ac.uk

The cost is £15 per head. Lunch can be paid for in the dining room. Accomodation is also available at the Library (£39/£54) - this includes breakfast and dinner.